How to be more resilient as a freelancer - career coaching tips

When it comes to career coaching we often forget that this is just as necessary for those who are working for themselves, as the employed (maybe more so). As well as being a resilience coach, I’ve been a freelance writer for over a decade so I have a lot of experience navigating the challenges and white knuckle moments that being self-employed can entail.


My work as a resilience coach has enabled me to approach that side of my life with a more optimistic and resourceful mindset - and I’ve had many clients come to me looking to achieve the same for themselves. These are some of my top resilience-building tips for freelancers in need of career coaching or a bit of a confidence boost.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries

You need strong boundaries as a freelancer. The word ‘no’ is incredibly hard to use, especially when you first become a freelancer. Any work feels like essential work and clients will frequently take advantage of your need to build a reputation and generate income by asking for more for less.

However, there has to come a point where you stop simply capitulating because overwork can lead to resentment and frayed relationships - and feeling like that is not why you got into this business is it? However, saying ‘no’ to clients is not the only boundary that often needs attention for freelancers. You might also want to think about how easy you find it to do this:

  • Saying no to yourself when it comes to working ‘just another hour’ at the end of the day.
  • Letting friends and relatives make you feel guilty if you’re less available when you’re going through a peak period instead of asking for their support.
  • Not picking up the phone or answering emails outside of your defined working hours.
  • Quietly, but firmly, refusing to accept less than the value you’ve set for your time and expertise.
  • Shutting the laptop and genuinely switching off instead of ruminating and worrying.
  • Putting your phone away when you’re with family or friends and actually being present - even if you’ve got something on your mind or your freelance work is making you anxious. 
  • Not trying to control what you can’t control.
  • Accepting discomfort as part of the experience instead of trying to numb or ‘get rid of’ the feeling.

And think about this: if you’re saying yes when you actually mean no then it’s likely that you need something in whatever situation is making you compromise yourself in this way. So, next time you feel that happening, stop and ask yourself, what part of me needs something from them? (eg. external validation because your self-esteem is low) The realisation might make it easier to put that boundary in place.

Rubbish month/year? You’re not alone

The defining feature of being freelance is probably the way that work comes to you in peaks and troughs. I’ve found that no matter how successful you are (and no matter how good you are), there are always natural lulls. So if (when) this happens to you, don’t panic. It’s always worth remembering that, right now, we are in the midst of post-pandemic economic uncertainty that is causing widespread upheaval.

If you start to feel yourself obsessing about what isn’t happening then take a break and do something totally different to shift your energy - even for 30 minutes. Do whatever you know will make you feel good about yourself again - dance, go outside, chat to a friend - so that you can separate what’s happening in your business from your value as a human being.

Boost your confidence and remind yourself who TF you are. It can also be useful to find a way to enjoy those times when the work eases off - book a holiday, get all your admin done or mastermind that brilliant new marketing idea.

Ringfence the stuff that is important but not directly cash-generating

That might be ‘thinking’ time or experimenting with fabrics or recipes. It might be giving yourself the opportunity to sit down and work out what your authentic marketing message is. Maybe it’s investing in some career coaching for confidence. Or it could be networking with people in your industry who could be a source of potential clients - or just of support during tough times.

Being resilient as a freelancer means having resources from which to adapt, create, innovate and push for growth, so make sure you ringfence time to do whatever fills up that cup.

Prioritise the emotional refills too

When you’re a freelancer you are the business so if you’re not operating optimally then the chances are that your business isn’t either. That could be something as simple as having time away from your phone, even if your business marketing is dependent on it. Or it might be giving yourself that hour in nature that you know you need every single day, the time to meal plan so you’re eating to fuel yourself or shutting down the laptop and going to the pub with your friends if you know you’re low on social interaction and feeling a bit isolated.

We tend to live in a culture that says “prioritise the activities that directly generate income” but the reality is that your emotional well-being needs to come first. Without that you’re just limping along, vulnerable to that one small hiccup or slip-up that will knock you down like a feather.

I can’t stress how important this is for freelancers, especially if you’ve come from a corporate culture that didn’t value well-being. If your mental health is on a knife edge then you’ll find it very difficult to be flexible and tenacious - or even just ask for what you’re worth - when situations are challenging.

Take time off

Yes, it's hard to do because there's no one else in charge and there's always work to do. But it's part of healthy emotional well-being - and you deserve it!

Try again

Oh, failure how I love thee. Well, that’s not true - I’m someone who has had a lot of perfectionist tendencies and doesn’t like it at all but I have learned to appreciate it at least. Freelancers fail all the time and then go on to succeed. What’s tricky about this is that you’re not in a team of people who can help absorb the emotional impact by encouraging each other or cheering each other up. And you’re not in a big business where the financial impact of failure can be absorbed either. So, failure as a freelancer can feel even harsher. It can totally evaporate your confidence and leave you feeling ready to give up.

There are lots of ways to tackle an attitude that doesn’t embrace failure (see below) but the simplest thing to start with is to just not give up. Try again. I have found more than once in my life that the only difference between success and failure was trying one more time (there are many quotes online to that effect if you’re sceptical).

Spend some time removing those self-imposed limits

All freelancers are not made equal - we each show up with our own little suitcase of attributes and sorrows. It’s this wonderful mix that makes us who we are but sometimes a little attention is necessary to ensure that the wrong parts aren’t dominating. So, fear of failure could be something that drives you and means that you never take even a small risk because you can’t tolerate the idea of not getting it right.

Perhaps your self-esteem is low so you don’t charge your value or promote your work because you don’t think it’s good enough. You might be stuck in self-sabotage, which means that every time the business starts to rise and grow, a part of you steps in to pull the plug e.g. by ignoring deadlines or not giving yourself enough time to do a task.

From people pleasing to perfectionism and fear of success there are so many self-imposed limits that can undermine confidence and affect how you freelance. It is well worth taking the time to work some of these out so that you can be bolder and more resilient in your approach - and start living to your full potential..

Freelance life is rewarding, liberating and wonderful - and it is hard, lonely and scary at times. Everyone experiences peaks and troughs and that is unlikely to change. However, the more resilient you are, the smoother navigating the ups and downs will feel - and the bigger your dreams can be.

Many of my clients work in the freelance world, from producers to writers, executives and HR specialists. The work we have done together on building up confidence and self-esteem, removing limits to resilience and giving them permission to dream big has been the starting point for many of them to go on and thrive.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP certified coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She helps clients build confidence and self-belief, recover from burnout, develop self-assurance, intuitive connection and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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